It's not surprising that many women in Australia believe their greatest health risk is breast cancer. That's why women are often surprised to find out that the single biggest cause of death in women in Australia is coronary heart disease. In fact, coronary heart disease causes more deaths in women than men in Australia. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to all diseases and conditions involving the heart and blood vessels.
The main types of CVD in Australia are stroke, coronary heart disease and heart attack. Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries in your heart (coronary arteries) become clogged with a fatty material called plaque, which builds up on the arteries' inner walls. Over time, if the plaque builds up too much, the arteries cannot deliver enough blood to the heart.
Coronary heart disease is usually the reason why a person has a heart attack, which happens when a blood clot partially or completely blocks the artery, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle.
And in Australia, this is more likely to happen to a woman than a man. Many people think of cardiovascular disease as something that mainly affects men. But this is far from the case. "A heart attack does not discriminate – it affects both men and women," says Angela Hehir, Manager of Women and Heart Disease for the National Heart Foundation Australia NSW Division. However, says Ms Hehir, only 36% of women recognise their risk of CVD.